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A History of the Parish of Neilston
Chapter XV. — Antiquities of the Parish


The parish of Neilston, both in origin and name, is a very ancient one, and many of the incidents connected with it date back to a remote antiquity in the civil and religious history of our country. But, notwithstanding this, objects of outstanding interest from an antiquarian point of view are not numerous. The earliest objects of this character are of ecclesiastical origin. Following on the missionary enterprise of St. Columba to Iona in the sixth century, it would seem that quite a number of monks from the monastic establishments in Ireland came to different parts of Scotland, and with great zeal entered upon the labours of converting and civilising its early inhabitants. Of this number was St. Conval.

St. Conval’s Chapel and Well.

This saint was born in Ireland in the fifth century, and came to Scotland in early life, primarily as a disciple of St. Mungo or Kentigern, the patron saint of Glasgow, and landed at Inchinnan on the Clyde. Strange stories are told of his passage across the Channel—how, in the absence of regular “shipping,” he was able by a miracle to transport himself over on a boulder, which is still pointed out at Inchinnan as St. Conval’s stone, and is credited writh powers of healing through touch. He was eminent as a confessor, and patron of the churches of Pollokshaws, Cumnock, and Ochiltree, and had many churches named in his honour in other parts. Of this class was the very ancient religious house situated at the primitive township of Fereneze, now the lands of Chappell at Barrhead. Doubtless this early structure was a very simple one, possibly at first only a votive cell of mud and wattle, though in its later history becoming a church of greater pretension and importance. In the sixteenth century the kirk lands of this chapel were presented by Lord Semple as part of the endowment of his collegiate church at Lochwinnoch. The lands of Chappell lie immediately to the south of Fereneze hills, then covered by forest; and it is a distinctive feature of this early church “that its garden sloped back to the hills of Fereneze.” The important question now is, Are there any relics of this church in evidence? In the vicinity of the present mansion-house of Chappell there exist certain substantial remains of a very early wall, traditionally associated with the chapel of St. Conval. In the opinion of the present proprietor, Mr. Joseph Watson, who has investigated this matter thoroughly, these remains are most probably relics of the boundary wall of the ancient church land, including possibly part of the foundation of the ancient chapel. There is also convenient to this mural relic a large dipping well, with abundance of spring water, from which, it may be safely concluded, the religious drew their water supply.

Our Lady’s Chapel of Aboon-the-brae, and Lady-well.

About two miles to the west of Neilston, on a plateau of the farm lands of Aboon-the-Brae, overlooking Commore (the great valley), in which lie Waterside and the Links of Leven, there formerly existed another of those early religious houses, which, from its convenience to the great road through Dumgraine Muir to Kilmarnock, has been conjectured to have been most probably of the character of a hospice and monastery. There are now no remains of this church visible above ground, but within the memory of a gentleman still alive, the writer’s reverend friend, Dean Tracy of Barrhead, certain remains of a pavement or court were visible on the plateau referred to, such as are to be met with in old Continental monasteries, by which it was almost possible mentally to restore the outline of the ancient court of the hospice. During the existence of Waterside Works, now razed to the ground, there existed an old structure, little more than a gable partly built into the other erections, which was out of all harmony with its surroundings : for while the other windows were everywhere of the ordinary quadrangular bleach work type, this gable presented several shapely narrow lancet windows such as are characteristic of ecclesiastical structures. Indeed, looking at them there was no getting past the conclusion that the stones of this gable and these windows had got into plebeian company, and that when Waterside was being built, they had been brought from the then existing ruin of the ancient religious house on the plateau of the farm above, hewn and ready to the builder’s hand.

Many traditional stories have come down the ages from the old chapel Aboon-the-Brae—such as the finding of hollow stones resembling holy-water fonts, and, also, statues among the rubbish, by workmen at different times, and especially of the image said to have been thrown into one of the linns in Image (or Midge Hole) Glen.

At Aboon-the-Brae is also found the justly celebrated spring known as the Lady-well, conjectured to have been one of the holy wells of Scotland. This well has been elsewhere referred to in detail.

In the neighbourhood of Waterside, too, the first High Steward erected a castle near the old Celtic town of Dumgraine, on the south side of the Leveni, possibly a hunting seat, convenient to the forest of Dumgraine, but no relic is known to exist.

ABTHURLIE STONE.

Within the grounds of Arthurlie, at Barrhead, the property of Mr. H. B. Dunlop, D.L., there is a pillar stone of much interest and great antiquity, and which in its day has passed through many vicissitudes. In its original condition it is said to have stood in the field immediately west of the present policies, a field designated the “ Cross-stane-park ” in the plan of the estate. Previous to 1788, there is good reason for presuming that the structure was in this field and entire, base and shaft, as it is stated that Gavin Ralston, in whose possession the estate was at that time, had the upright shaft removed, and the base on which it stood taken away. The base was spoken of as a “trough stone,” from being hollowed out on its upper surface, where probably the end of the shaft was fixed into it. There are said to be historic grounds for thinking that the stone must have been erected before 1452, but how much earlier is unknown. This very ancient pillar is by some thought to be of Danish origin, and to have marked the last resting-place of some venerated chief of the name of Arthur; but by the majority of thinkers who have examined it, it is considered to be much older, and associated in some way with the memory of Arthur, the King of the Britons, the famous “Knight of the Round Table,” and champion of many battles against the Piets and Scots for the independence of the kingdom of Strathclyde. This aspect of its history is more fully referred to under “Arthurlie.” The stone is generally spoken of as “Arthurlie Cross.” The material of which it is composed is a very hard and compact sandstone, and the shaft is of the following dimensions:—Height, 6 ft. 6 in.; breadth across the widest part of the

base, 23 in.; thickness at the same part, 9 in.; it tapers slightly towards the top, where its breadth is 18 in. and its thickness 8 1/2 in. The front and back surfaces of the stone are each divided into three not quite equal panels, the middle one being the largest. The lower panel of what is the north surface as the stone stands at present, is surrounded by a flat moulding which is continued round the margin of the stone, and divides it into three panels, the lowest of which encloses a cross in slight relief. The shaft and arms of this enclosed cross are respectively 3 in. and 2 in. wide, and are entire, excepting that the lower part of the shaft seems shortened, probably from the lower end of the stone having been broken at some time, and possibly also from its base being set about a foot into the stone on which it at present stands. The upper panels have no cross, but are filled in with an intricate pattern of tortuous interlacing rope work, very much after the manner of runic designs. The pattern is boldly cut, and, considering the reputed great age of the stone, is fairly well defined. What is now the south, or reverse side of the stone from that we have just been describing, is also divided into three panels, but this time more equally, and they are defined by a rather obscure moulding and filled in with the same interlacing pattern, blit there is no cross or other symbol. The centre part of this surface is a good deal worn, and at one place near the middle the pattern has been almost obliterated by the tramping of many feet, a condition due to the fact that for many years the stone did duty as a footbridge across the stream in Colinbar Glen, at the bottom of “Cross-stane-park,” in which it had stood originally. The edges of the stone show three panels, and are traversed from base to top by a linked chain or rope pattern, the members of which are about f-in. thick and well defined. At about four feet up from the bottom of the stone, and in the middle of the surface as regards its edges, there is an iron ring indented into it, almost flush with the surface, and run in with lead, put there to receive the end of an iron bolt when the venerable pillar did duty as a gate-post at the entrance to a field, after its services as a footbridge were over. But now, in its extreme old age, this ancient relic has fallen upon better times, and once more stands erect upon a double block of hewn sandstone at the end of a walk in the garden, where it is carefully looked after by the present proprietor, Mr. Henry B. Dunlop, the utilitarian age being past. But it is doubtful if even now it is in proper position, as what is presently the north surface should probably have faced the orient. The top of the stone has been broken off at the point from which the arms of the cross would spring, and the general appearance of the shaft at present would indicate that, when complete, the cross would resemble that cut in the panel on its front.

Capelrig Stone.

On the lands of Capelrig, in a field to the north of the “Home Farm,” there is an upright stone, very similar in appearance and general treatment to that of Arthurlie; both are broken at the top; they are of the same taper and composed of the same material, a hard sandstone; and as it is probable that this stone is in its original position, it may throw some light on the Arthurlie stone, which is certainly not so at present, and is our reason for referring to it here. In the first place, it is to be noted that the Capelrig stone is oriented—the obverse surface to the east, the reverse west, and the edges north and south—but the stone itself is not nearly so well preserved as that at Arthurlie. Both surfaces are channelled from the top to fully half-way down the shaft, as if long splinters had been burst out of them by frost and exposure, and near the north edge of the east face there is now a fissure as if the beginning of another splinter. Both surfaces of the stone are divided into two nearly equal panels, the dividing and border mouldings being 4 in. and 3 in. respectively. These panels have been filled in with some form of figuring, possibly of an interlacing pattern, but it is so worn as to be untraceable, and the pattern on the edges is similarly obscured. There are no symbols or other specific forms on any part of the surfaces. If this stone, as is assumed, is in its original site, then it is flush with the ground, the grass growing rankly round its shaft, and there is no visible trace of a base or trough stone, as is claimed for that at Arthurlie. On separating the grass, the base of the shaft seems packed round with stones, but it must be set deep in the ground to give it the stability it evidently possesses. Its measurements are:—Height, 6 ft. 4 in.; greatest width at base, 30 in.; width at top, 20 in.; thickness at base, 14 in.; at top, 12 in.

There are also preserved traditional accounts of the “Steed-Stane Cross,” which, it is said, stood near “Rais Castle,” now in ruins, at Dovecothall, Barrhead, and “Cross-stobs Cross,” which is alleged to have marked the grave of the famous Donald Lord of the Isles, on his defeat at Harelaw in the neighbourhood.

No relic of either of these two stones now exists; but Mr. Dunlop, of Arthurlie, informed the writer that he remembered, many years ago, seeing part of the stone from Cross-stobs lying behind the hedge on the north side of the road leading by Hawkhead to Paisley.

These four stones, Arthurlie, Capelrig, Steed-Stane Cross, and Cross-stobs, have been evidently memorial structures and not wayside devotional crosses; a view which tends greatly to strengthen the inference that Neil’s-stone, which stood on Cross-stane Brae, was a fifth pillar of the same character.

DRUID, OR COVENANTERS’ STONES.

On either side of the footpath leading through the Moyne moor to the Long Loch there are several stones of evidently considerable antiquity. They are seven in number, and all lie in one direction, east and west. How they came to be placed there, or for what purpose, is not known. They are flat, undressed stones, with no inscription or other markings to indicate their purpose. They have been variously called Druidical and Covenanters’ grave-stones. The former they are not so likely to be, but the latter is not at all unlikely, as they are quite in the track of moor that leads by the south-west into Ayrshire by Lochgoin, and we know that the suffering “Men of the Moss hags” during “the killing time” were frequently in that district; and the further fact, that it was by the Mearns moor route that a body of their number marched to join the Pentland Rising, shows they were not unfamiliar with the locality referred to. “The Covenanters of the shire of Ayr, headed by several of their ejected ministers, whom they had cherished in the solitary dens and hidings in the moors and hills, to which they had been forced to flee from the proclamation against the field-preacliings, advanced to meet us on our march,” and “as we toiled through the deep heather on the eastern skerts of Mearns Moor a mist hovered all the morning over the Pad of Neilston, covering like a snowy fleece the sides of the hills down almost to the course of our route, in such a manner that we could see nothing on the left beyond it.”

THE RUINS OF COWDENHALL.

The ruins of this ancient castle occupy the summit of a rising knoll on the south bank of Cowden Burn, about half a mile to the west of Neilston railway station. When the “Joint Line” was being built, it became necessary to alter the turnpike road here, and the hill on which the ruin stands had to be cut down, on its northern slope; at which time also the Cowden Burn was diverted from its natural bed, and made to run in an artificial channel between the north side of the highway and the line. To judge bv what remains of this ancient mansion, it must at one time have been a place of considerable size and importance; and that it was so, is quite borne out by the position accorded to it in history. It is surrounded bv a number of line trees, ash, beech, and plane, of quite forest dimensions, whose sturdy trunks and mighty arms bear evidence of having wrestled with time, and not unsuccessfully, for many centuries. Sir William Cochrane, afterwards Earl of Dundonald, derived his first title of Baron Cowden from this property.

The Spreuls of Cowden were a very ancient family in the parish. Walter Spreul, who was High Steward of Dumbarton, Senescallus de Dumbartoim, is the earliest of the family of whom there is any record. He appears to have been a retainer of Malcolm Earl of Lennox, from whom he had the lands of Dalquhern, pro homagio servitio suo—for attendance and bodily service—referring to war service, doubtless. This was early in the reign of King Robert the Bruce, probably the beginning of the fourteenth century. Subsequently to 1441, the property would appear to have been alienated ; for in 1545 we find Queen Mary granting the castle, etc., of Cowden to Spreul, for good services. {Reg- Mag. Sigilli, 1546-80.) The family, however, would appear to have failed in the person of James Spreul, who sold the property to Alexander Cochran, whose family, we have seen, afterwards became the Earls of Dundonald. At a subsequent date, the estate became the possession of the Marquis of Clydesdale, in right of his mother, a daughter of the Earl of Dundonald. But on the Marquis becoming the Duke of Hamilton, he sold it, in 1776, to the then Baron Mure of Caldwell, in which family it still remains.

THE HALL OF CALDWELL.

This picturesque building has already been referred to in the description of the Mures of Caldwell, and it will be sufficient here to mention the fact there dealt with in more detail: that at one period of its history the property, under the name of Little or Wester Caldwell, returned a Member to the Scottish Parliament, 1659, and that he was paid for his services there by the Laird of Caldwell, as we learn from “the Accounts” of that family.

Previous to the Covenanting times, “when the heart was young,” the open green in front of the old Hall of Caldwell, we are informed, was a favourite place for dance gatherings, and that the rival followers of Terpsichore from Neilston, Lochwinnoch, and Beith, the parishes adjoining this centre, had regular meetings for dancing purposes and general enjoyment on summer Sunday evenings. On these occasions there would, no doubt, be frequently witnessed the feats of Goldsmith’s “Sweet Auburn,”

“The dancing pair that simply sought renown,
By holding out, to tire each other down.”

Or that other picture by Allan Ramsay, when describing similar meetings, in which—

“While the young brood sport on the green,
The auld anes think it best
With the broon cow to clear their e’en,
Snuff, crack, and tak’ their rest.”

But with the advent of the more earnest period referred to, those generally innocent and happy meetings, that helped to while away the heavy hour— when books were out of the question and reading to a great extent an unlearned art—got naturally to be discontinued, and they are now merely matter of very ancient memory.

GLANDERSTON HOUSE.

The lands of Glanderston, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, were in the possession of the Mures of Caldwell. Crawford, referring to the mansion, in his History, speaks of it as a “Pretty one of a new model, with several well-finished apartments, upon a small rivulet adorned with regular orchards and large meadows, beautiful with a great deal of regular planting.” This was in 1697, when it was rebult, but “Ichabod” has long years ago been written over it ; its glory has departed. But even in its ruin it was a picturesque old structure, with crow-stepped gables and dormer windows with peaked entablatures, and grass-grown gateway and court, with the initials T.W. and W.M. carved in the lintel over the door, and the date 1697 over the windows. Its last occupant was Mr. Walton, and in it Mr. E. A. Walton, R.S.A., was born about fifty odd years ago. Forty-five years ago, the windows were gone and the door owned no latch, and the wind and storm howled through the casements; but even then there were several very interesting frescoes on the lobby walls—“A harvest scene,” scenes of “Moonlight on the waters,” and others—possibly where the R.S.A. “tried his ’prentice hand,” and if so, they were certainly the promise of the distinguished artist of the present day. But now they are gone, and the ruin even has been razed to the ground, not one stone being left upon another to tell of its existence. Further information will be found with regard to this interesting old property under “the Mures of Glanderston.”

NEILSTONSIDE.

This property belongs to Mr. Speirs of Elderslie, but it was at one time a possession of a descendant of Sir William Wallace, Scotland’s liberator, whose family removed to Kelly, in the neighbourhood of Greenock. A few years ago, when some alterations were being made on the dwelling, now a farm-house, the tradesmen came upon quite a number of old Spanish silver coins of various values. But how they came to be there, record says not.

CURIOUS PRESCRIPTION: A GLANDERSTON RELIC.

For many years before the Union of Scotland with England, “the predominant partner,” in 1707, the unsettled state of society and the country generally offered a direct barrier to the advancement of all intellectual pursuits; and witchcraft was only too often called in to account for and explain what was not obvious on the surface. In these circumstances, it is not very surprising to learn—what the following ludicrous prescription abundantly shews—that the science of medicine was at a very low ebb, and that empiricism not infrequently covered want of knowledge. In any case, the prescription is sufficiently curious in itself to merit notice, even if it had not been connected with Glanderston in our parish. Dr. Johnstone was probably a practitioner who had some status in Paisley. (The letter is from the Caldwell Papers}

“Dr. Johnstoune to the Laird of Glanderstoun.

“Directions for Margret Polick. Paisley, Octr. 28, 1692.

“Sir,

“The bearer labours under the common weakness of being now more feard yn is just. As she was formerlie a little too confident in her own conduct. The spinal bon head hath never been restor’d intirly, qch will make her sensible all her days of a weakness in a descent; but will be freed from all achin paines if she nightly anoint it wth the following oyl, viz. :

“Take a littl fatt dogg, take out only his puddings, & putt in his bellie 4 ounces of Cuningseed; rost him, and carefullie keep the droping, qrin boyl a handfull of earth wormes quhill they be leiklie; then lett it be straind and preservd for use, as said is.

“My humble dutie to your Ladie. I am,

“Glanderstoun,

“Your most humble servitor,

“JOHNSTOUNE.”

LETTER FROM KING JAMES VI. TO THE LAIRD OF CALDWELL.

The following letter from King James YI. of Scotland to Sir Robert Mure of Caldwell, the representative of the family at that period, and who had only shortly before been knighted by him, is of interest, as reasonably referring to Neilston parish, and also as shewing the personal care the king took of matters now wisely left to the management of ecclesiastical courts. The letter emanates from the royal palace at Falkland, but does not record the year, but it was most probably about the end of the sixteenth century, and consequently only shortly before his accession to the throne of England, in 1603. The diocese of Glasgow then probably extended westward to the parish of Dunlop, where it became conterminous with that of Galloway, leaving little doubt, therefore, that the “parochin” spoken of in the letter as being “within your bondes” of Caldwell, was the parish of Neilston, then under the care, as we have elsewhere seen, of Schir David Ferguson, as curate.

“To our traist freind the Lard of Caldwell.

“Traist freind we greit zou weill. Undrstanding that our belovit Robert Archbishhope of Glasgw is to repair and travell to the visitatioun of all kirkis within the boundes of his dyocis, for ordour taking and refor-matioun of abuses within the samyn according to his dewitie and charge ; We have thairfoir thoucht gude, maist effectuouslie to requeiste and desyr zou to accompany assist manteine and concur with him in all thingis, requisit tending to gude ordour and refermatioun of all enormiteis, within zour bondes and parochin ; And to withstainde all sic as ony way wald seame to impeid or hinder him in that hehalf; As ze will gif pruif of zour gude aflectioun to our service and do us acceptable pleisour. Thus we comit zou to God. From Falkland, the 22d day of July.

“James R”

THE TOWER OF THE PLACE OF CALDWELL.

This is another of those relics that carry the mind back to an early period of the history of the parish. The ancient “keep” is now in a good state of repair, having been thoroughly strengthened by the late Colonel Mure, M.P. It is situated on the summit of a hill overlooking the valley of Loch Libo. The structure is a quadrangular or square tower, and consists of three stories ; the walls are of great thickness, and there are several windows and loop-holes in them. There are many towers of similar character throughout the country; and, judging from its style, it was probably built about the middle of the fifteenth century. The kitchen, or ground flat, enters from the court; the second flat is reached by an outside stair, while access is gained to the third flat by a winding stair built in the thickness of the wall; and the outside on the top, which is surrounded by a battlemented parapet about three feet in height, is reached through a hatchway or window in the roof. The ceilings of all the apartments are built of stone, and vaulted, giving the greatest strength to the erection. The present tower is but an outwork of the original building, and in the palmy days of the castle was connected with several other buildings, and a screen, in such a way as to enclose a large court: the structures other than the tower having been demolished during the forfeiture. Some of the old trees of the avenue leading to the tower are still to be seen at the top of the hill, the present turnpike road having been cut through them; and, up till 1879, a number of their companions stood in the field round the tower. Old and gnarled they looked, and doubtless, from their elevated position, had wrestled with many a storm in their younger days. But the hurricane wind-storm of that winter— the winter after the Tay Bridge disaster—proved too much for them, and they were all blown down, singularly enough, with their heads all turned iu towards each other, as having been caught in a whirlwind; and now the old tower stands alone.

THE OLD WINDOW IN THE CHURCH.

This ancient Gothic window in the north side of the church is an object of much architectural interest, which has already been referred to. Its age is quite unknown, but the stone mouldings and general composition would seem to point to a period not long after the foundation of the religious houses, in the other parts of the parish, which were holden of the Abbey of Paisley. The structure, as we learn from Crawford, was gifted to the Abbot by De Croc of Crookston. It is beyond doubt a preReformation relic; but what relation it bears to that important event, whether of the church of De Croc, is unascertained; most probably it is of mediaeval origin. The burial vault of the Mures of Caldwell is situated under this window; and during the many years this family was in possession of Glanderston, they were patrons of the church. Referring to this place of sepulture in 1640, on the occasion of making his testamentary settlement, Robert Mure, the then Laird of Caldwell, directs, amongst other things—“my body to be honestlie buryit, according to my qualitie, besyd my predecessors in the kirk of Neilstoune.”

ANCIENT CROSS IN CHURCHYARD.

In the triangular space between the walks in front of the church there is a most interesting recumbent stone, having sculptured on its surface what is considered to be an ancient Runic cross, all reference to which is lost in obscurity.

STEWART RAISS.

Of this once important castle only a very small part remains. The ruin is situated at Dovecothall, on the south bank of the Levern, and north-east boundary of the parish, and is remarkable for the great thickness of its walls. In an assize connected with the lands of the County in 1545, George Stewart of Raiss proved that the lands in question at one time belonged to his kinsman, Matthew Earl of Lennox; and Crawford tells us that he had seen a charter granted by John Lord Darnley and Earl of Lennox, which puts beyond question the fact that this property at one period belonged to that once powerful family.


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